Information for Veterans and their families
Written by Chris Butler, son of Ralph Butler, from the information Ralph provided to him.
In early 1939 my father, Ralph Butler, joined the local TA Battalion Queen Victoria Rifles (QVR) B Company at the age of 19. The QVRs had a drill hall in Lymington Road, West Hampstead, London near where my father lived. The fact that is was also a motorcycle battalion appealed to my father as he was a keen motorcycle enthusiast. During the summer of 1939 the QVRs attended a two week camp at Burley in the New Forest.
The QVRs were sent to Calais on May 22nd 1940 at very short notice. B Company were deployed on the coast road at Oyez Farm, Sangatte. When the Germans began their attack shortly afterwards, B Company were redeployed to Bastion Eleven and here they came under command of C Company 2nd King's Royal Rifle Corp (KRRC).
The QVRs and KRRC's came under intense shelling and mortar fire whilst here. My father's Seven Platoon in particular suffering a lot of casualties as their position became increasingly untenable.
B Company with C Company KRRC took part in a fighting withdrawal into Calais where heavy street fighting took place. Eventually what was left of B Company (about 30 men), under the command of Captain Bowring, took shelter in a school house in the Courgain area of Calais near the lighthouse. The Germans now had surrounded this area and on exiting the school house the men found themselves face-to-face with a German patrol backed by the tanks. They were then taken prisoners.
My fathers recollection of this moment is the German patrol carrying on down the street shouting 'raus tommy and throwing stick grenades into the cellars which faced onto the street. This was to be the start of five years in captivity.
After a long march and being transported in cattle trucks and by train, my father and his fellow Prisoners of War reached a place called Torun (Thorn) in Poland this was where Stalag XXA was situated. He remained there for some time before being sent to Stalag XXB at Marienberg.
His recollections of being a PoW were of hard physical work on farms and building schemes and a shortage of food.
Right at the end of the War when they were being marched Westwards by the Germans (who were trying to get away from the advancing Russians), food was extremely short and he suffered severe malnutrition. My father survived.
The experience left him physically and mentally tough after the War.
My overriding impression of him was a man (like many of his generation ) who never gave up or let things get to him.